He Garden, also known as Ho Family Garden or Jixiao Mountain Villa, is located at No. 66 Xuningmen Street, Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. Famed as the top private garden of the late Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), it was built on the original site of the Double Locust Garden. The once private garden has now become a national 4A-rated tourist site, and attracted many ancient architecture lovers.
The garden was the private residential yard of the He Family, a notable family and great clan in Yangzhou. It was built by He Zhidao, an official of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty. He resigned in 1883 and set up business in Yangzhou. He then bought the ancient site of Wu’s Sliced Stone Mountain Villa, and enlarged it into a big garden for his family. Construction lasted 13 years.
With a built-up area of 8,372 square yards (7,000 square meters), covering half of the total 16,744 square yards (14,000 square meters), there are various architectures of character that were densely arranged in this garden. Besides features of the imperial gardens from northern China and the private gardens of the south, western architectural style was also incorporated into the construction. The Double Way Covered Corridor in the West Garden is the highlight. Many ancient garden experts praised the He Garden as the ‘unique case of gardens in Jiangnan’ (Jiangnan, regions south of the Yangtze River).
What to see ?
Visitors may follow the introduction below to tour the garden, which is divided into the Sliced Stone Mountain Villa, Residential Area, East Garden, and the West Garden.
Sliced Stone Mountain Villa
Entering from the southern gate of the He Garden and walking eastward, visitors will come upon the Sliced Stone Mountain Villa. It lies in the southeast corner of the whole garden and features an impressive large artwork of piling stones. This is the only work left behind by Shi Tao, a great master of art in the early Qing Dynasty. A stone house inside the rock structure is a good place to relieve summer heat. The ‘Moon in the Water’ is another marvelous spectacle made by Shi Tao. A hole was chiseled into the wall behind the piling stones and once light penetrates through, the shadow can be seen on the water in front of the piling stones. It is like a bright moon changing its shape when seen from different angles.
To the east is the oldest building in the He Garden, the Nanmu Wood Hall of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The He Family Ancestral Hall, also known as Guangde Hall, lies further east. It was used as a place of worship and also for the grand family meetings. An accountant's office is set beside it to manage the finance of the family.
The backyard is divided into two parts. The East Garden can be reached from the Residential Area or directly from the eastern gate. The most significant and exquisite building in this area is the Boat Hall which is named after its shape. It is 17 yards (15.7 meters) wide, 10 yards (9.5 meters) long and built with corridors. The land around it is paved with pebbles and tiles that resemble waves, creating an illusion of water around the hall.
The Peony Hall stands in the south. There is a wonderful brick carving of peonies on the exterior. To the north and standing against the wall is a huge rock of 66 yards (60 meters). It resembles a beautiful landscape painting on the wall. The small Moon Pavilion on the top is a good place to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the whole garden. The Study Building on the west shows the academic atmosphere of the He family.
Go through the corridor on the west to enter the West Garden. The first spectacle coming into sight is the Double Way Covered Corridor. This 1,640-yard (1,500-meter) long corridor, with two ways and two floors leading to all directions, is the one and only in all the Chinese gardens. It is famed as the rudiment of the modern overpass in China. It links the West Garden, East Garden and the Residential Area. The roof acts as perfect shelter for visitors during rainy days. In the center of the pond lies the Water Middle Pavilion. It was built for the family members to watch performance of Chinese traditional operas and dances. With the help of the water and the corridor around, it has a better echo effect. It is the only opera pavilion built on water in ancient China, and a sought-after scene for many movies and TV dramas.
North to the pond is the Butterfly Hall with a beautiful shape of a flying butterfly. It is mainly to hold banquets. South to the pond is the Lake Stone Rockery which brings about a poetic and pictorial splendor. Going further south through the corridor, one will see the Moon Viewing Tower which is the former residence of the mother of the owner. It is the best place to enjoy the full moon in the garden. Tongren Hall is situated to the south, in memory of the Tongren Middle School which used to have stood there.
The Qima (Horse-Riding) Building right inside the south gate is a two-floor building containing the guest rooms. The western part is simple, but the eastern part is just like a maze. There are two double-floor buildings behind the eastern part, connected by courtyards and corridors. Walking through the Double Way Covered Corridor in the west, visitors will see the owners’ residential area – the Yuxiu Buildings. They are two parallel buildings with a courtyard between them. The whole He family lived there more than 100 years ago. The Yuxiu Buildings are made up of bricks and wood. They applied not only traditional Chinese architectural skills, but also western concepts, such as the shutters and French styled fireplace, and the Japanese styled sliding door. Other considerations taken into account by the builders are the likes of airways on the floor, and advanced breathable layer underground. Some rooms now are used to exhibit the history, daily utensils and artworks of the He family.
To the south of the Yuxiu Buildings is the Nanmu Wood Hall of the Qing Dynasty. It was used as a guest room and is the largest and most well-preserved Nanmu wood hall in Yangzhou. Two large pieces of glasses are used on both sides of the door, making the hall very bright.